"There is something that you learn when you have a broken heart. Not that I didn't cherish love before but I really treasure it now, I really understand how hard it is to find. I think being the person I am now, if I met her tomorrow I probably wouldn't be with her. But I was a different person then, and I've learned a whole lot."--Ellen DeGeneres, talking about actress Anne Heche, with whom she had a nearly four-year relationship.
It is a gossip story newly fueled: Anne Heche, selling her autobiography, "Call Me Crazy," has in recent weeks been making the rounds of the talk shows and discussing Ellen DeGeneres.
Heche and DeGeneres met at a Vanity Fair Oscar party in 1997; as a couple, they became an important--and controversial--symbol of gay Hollywood.
The relationship broke off a year ago. Celebrities and their publicists enter into prickly contracts with the public; they want us to swallow whole their happiness, then avert our eyes when suddenly "private" matters turn sour. Interviewed by The Times in late July, DeGeneres discussed her struggle with this latest public turn in her private life.
Question: After you came out, did you want to be the cause celebre for gay Hollywood?
Answer: You know, I wasn't that outspoken. I was going to make this statement [of coming out], but that's all I was going to do. I didn't know I was going to be walking down the red carpet holding somebody's hand. I mean, to me, that all was scary. And if I would have hooked up with someone who was gay, they wouldn't have forced--that's a bad word, "forced"--they wouldn't have encouraged me to do that.
Q: What do you mean?
A: Because they would know ... there's no need to have our arms around each other.... I think she's a very fearless person so there was definitely, um, I think ... I'm trying not to talk about her because it's really not about her. Because I think that what the people were responding to ... it was this ... it was this basic posturing.
Q: So it was Anne pushing the image of you two on the public.
A: ... I didn't want to hold hands. I had never done that in public. And yet there was this attitude of, you know, "You're going to be on the cover of Time magazine and say you're gay but you're not going to hold hands? You deserve to hold hands as much as Tom and Nicole. Or Tom and Rita." So I have to take responsibility for participating in [that].
Q: Do you recognize that people are more interested in this aspect of your life than your work?
A: All I can say to that is, I don't want to be a part of a soap opera anymore. That's the key word--a soap opera is not real. I was in something that I thought was real.
Q: True. The image you two presented now seems like a fraud. How do you deal with that?
A: She walked out the door and I haven't spoken to her since, I don't have the answers. I would love to have them myself. I would ask all of the questions that everyone else wants to ask.... I'm left with everybody else wondering what happened. I don't know. I really don't.... I feel betrayed. I have no idea what the book is. I have no idea. And I know him [Heche's husband, Coleman Laffoon]. He was on my tour with me, he was like my brother.
... What I don't mind saying is, it was the first time I ever had my heart broken. I'd always been the one to leave relationships, and I had been in long-term relationships, and it was the one time I really believed this is forever. I'm going to be with this person forever, and I felt safe and I felt we shared so much together, and it was the first time I've had my heart broken, and it was in a big way. Because there is no closure. I've had a girlfriend who was killed in a car accident. I know what it's like to lose someone. and that's a horrible feeling, [but] it's almost worse to lose someone and know they're still alive out there, and I don't understand. So it was a big heartbreak.
... I'd like to believe that she loved me, and that I'm not that stupid that I would be completely fooled. But I really will never know. And it doesn't matter. I know that I was happy for a long time, and she obviously changed her mind. I just wish I had been alerted in a different way. It could have ended differently."